The largest gay event in the Central Valley shares the story of their arduous journey to maintain LGBTQ visibility within the city of Fresno
A single spark is enough to set the world afire. The same is said for the movements that change the course of history. It starts with an idea, a single word, or a single step to set the right things in motion. In just a few days, on June 3rd, Fresno Rainbow Pride Parade and Festival will be celebrating their 27th year in the historic Tower District complete with the theme: “One Step Starts A Movement” to commemorate the many milestones achieved in the fight for Equality.
From 1955 when the first known Lesbian rights organization formed in San Francisco to the ban lift of Transgendered people serving in the U.S. military in 2016. “It is only through a community’s unity that we can overcome injustice towards all groups of people,” says the committee about their message behind the parade and festival.
Despite the impressive progress the LGBTQ community has seen throughout the country, as well as around the globe, the movement is still in full swing with the growing need for change right here in the Central Valley. But to know where this fight is going, it’s important to know where it has been and for that, we need to go back to the beginning.
“We’ve never had massive support from our allies,” shares Jeffery Robinson, Lead Coordinator, longstanding committee member, and one of the 12 original founders of the Fresno Pride Parade and Festival, “No one has ever rallied around us and [in our defense] said ‘no, we don’t put up with [hateful behavior], it’s all about inclusion, tolerance, and equality.’ That’s never happened in the city of Fresno.”
In 1991 the very first Pride parade was met with a protest from the Klu Klux Klan. But before the parade could take the flight down Olive Ave, the founders were met with resistance from members of their own community.
In the Beginning
1990 could be considered the first year of the official Pride celebration in Fresno when 12 individuals got together and decided that it was time for the local LGBTQ community to be visible. In the beginning, the parade was small and took place inside of a bar with attendees decorating baskets and carts in a similar fashion to parade floats. But it was quickly decided that wasn’t enough.
“We wanted something that couldn’t be pushed away. Something that couldn’t be closeted,” Robinson recalls from the days of establishing the parade march.
However, obtaining and securing a permit for the event was more complicated that it would seem. The early 90s was a time filled with activism for the LGBTQ community and some felt that battles were won through a delicate balancing act with regard to more conservative areas, such as Fresno, and the influential opinion was that Fresno was not ready for an ’out’ Pride celebration.
“Gay and Lesbian individuals who were in positions of leadership, who were visible community members, tried to work with the city government and Tower [District] businesses to stop us from having a parade on the streets of Olive Ave,” shares Robinson on the argument which few felt that the celebration would send the movement backwards, causing more harm than good.
The opposition failed and the permit was won. However, the committee was soon to face their next show of resistance; the KKK. Stationing themselves between what is now Sequoia Brewery and the Tower Theatre, the KKK came dressed in full traditional Klan attire complete with robes and infamous hoods, facing absolutely no opposition from any other members of the local community. But in spite of the display of intimidation, the committee was ready with a strong show of support.
Organizations from San Francisco and Los Angeles came to show their support with members representing from Queer Nation, Act Up, Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and roughly 20 bikers from the Women’s Motorcycle Contingent (Dykes on Bikes) to round out the march.
Read more: Everything Begins with One Step